Friday, July 27, 2007

Simpsons Movie: A Return to Form

I filed into the theater last night at midnight with an eclectic throng of Simpsons faithful. While not as rowdy as the Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean crowds whose wild din pierced through my adjacent bedroom window this summer, they had a similar level of devotion and expectancy. Being a Simpsons buff myself, I was paradoxically excited and scared at the prospect of the movie. The show began a sustained nose-dive as its number of seasons entered double digits, and any true fan will admit that the freshness and humor of the early seasons that elevated Homer to cultural icon status stagnated.

The problem can be boiled down to a departure from character-driven story. The Harvard cabal of Simpsons writers felt the pressure from the skyrocketing popularity of shows like The Family Guy and American Dad. Complex, character-driven plots gave way to the dumb explicit political satire featured on American Dad, while Homer morphed into the stupider, edgier, and insensate Peter Griffin of The Family Guy. The Simpsons writers tried to sustain Homer's character with nothing but static, one-sided stupidity. It wasn't enough, and Homer became as boring as his two knock-off characters in The Family Guy and American Dad. It was hard for die-hard fans to see The Simpsons gracelessly attempt to stay abreast with the tastes of a new generation of teenagers bred on South Park. They utterly failed—the world of Springfield could not sustain the violence.

The Simpson family, however, is hilarious when placed in an actual story and forced to face real conflicts on a personal and societal level. In later seasons, an overt liberal agenda trumped the story. The jokes were generated from awkward attempt at satire rather than the spontaneous effect of funny characters in odd situations. In the movie, however, Homer's humor burst forth from his irrepressible character and the conflicts created therein. The movie returns to the old formula that was so successful in the early years. The conflict between the desperate need for family and the constant threat of its dissolution was what powered many of the stories of the earlier seasons. It’s what made the family and their world engaging; the movie employs this formula with fantastic results.

From many initial reviews, I feared the movie would turn into another sermon on global warming, creator Matt Groening's religion; yet, Mr. Groening’s environmental convictions only occupied the backdrop of the movie, never controlling the story or suppressing the characters. Their treatment of the "big" issues was reminiscent of the old days when their agenda was subtly and powerfully communicated or at least balanced with insight from both sides. Many conservatives will chuckle at the choice of the EPA as the misanthropic villain, though one should keep in mind that they are portrayed as corrupted by a monolithic and corporate Republican regime.

In a side note, it’s odd that the movie connects a religious prophecy with an impending apocalyptic eco-disaster; Evan Almighty used the same connection as the basis of its plot. It leaves one to wonder if this is the beginning of trend in Hollywood identifying global warming as a critical issue in matters of faith.

In any case, The Simpsons movie is a must see for all who grew up admiring the show’s world and humor. The Simpsons return to form left me waxing nostalgic and hoping for a sequel.



48 comments:

Benjamin Bloomfield said...

I'm not sure why you use an apostrophe in the title. I don't think I've seen it written that way anywhere else, but you seem to write it that way every time. What gives?

Nice blog, by the way.

Martin Harold said...

Yeah, I guess you're right. For some reason, I've always written it that way.

Aaron Burr said...

YESSSS! MUST GO SEE!

LuminousSpecter said...

What about the skateboard sequence. It made me feel dirty, and I didn't laugh for the next 10 minutes because I was so disturbed by it. This movie should have been R rated for that part alone, no pun intended.

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